This spring, we got our first set of baby chicks from a local store. These are the first that we were raising ourselves, not with the help of my sister-in-law, aka: the chicken-whisperer. As a family, we’ve raised a few batches of chickens by now. But these little guys were the first batch that Shane and I were doing solo. We’re quite excited that in two more months, our baby chicks will be laying eggs!
Our original plan was to have just a few chickens close to the house this spring, and by next season have a larger coop out in the pasture. In the meantime, we found out a neighbor was moving and needed to re-home about 24 of her hens. Her chickens were already grown and laying eggs, ours however, were still babies. We discussed how quickly to make a bigger coop or not. This would be on top of the other projects we (and by we, I really mean, Shane) had on the “short” list. We go thru about a dozen eggs or more a week, so more chickens would be a bonus.
Planning for Chickens, and Then Planning Some More
When we planned our small coop, we expected to have 4 hens which would yield 10-20 eggs a week. However, we only have two little chicks right now that are about two and a half months old, of the four we started out with. Unfortunately, a coyote got to two of them one of the first nights they were outside in the small coop. We reinforced it a little better and since then they have been doing fine. However, our two survivor chickens won’t provide enough eggs, and they also won’t be laying for another month or so still. So, we decided to go ahead and put the big permanent coop higher on the list.
Today, Shane’s out in the pasture, cutting down grass to clear an area for the new chicken coop. There were some old pallets and OSB that we had laying around which we are using to build a large 4’ by 10’ foot chicken house. We will be able to comfortably accommodate about two dozen big healthy and happy hens. The plan is to get 12 chickens from the neighbor, along with our 2 little ones. Fromm there, we should be able to have plenty of eggs for ourselves and friends, as well as starting to sell them at the local market.
Small Coop, Big Rewards
Starting out with a few chickens is pretty simple and takes little space in the yard. When we were inside the city limits in Colorado, we were only able to raise three chickens, and you could not have a rooster. Be sure to check locally to see what is allowed before starting to plan a chicken space, just in case. Still, even with only three chickens, if you’ve got some heavy egg layers that’s about a dozen or more eggs a week. When planning the coop space, keep in mind 1-2 square feet of space per chicken is comfortable. Chickens sleep super close together on a roost, and they only use the nesting boxes when laying. Keeping simplicity in mind, for a small urban coop with 3 or 4 hens, you could build a 2’ x 3’ home with 2 nesting boxes and have plenty of room to keep your flock happy.
Until they are fully feathered, youngling chicks are kept inside the first 6-10 weeks. They are then able to be in a more variable environment, and large enough to evade small pests and predators like snakes, rats, etc. Once they are ready to live outside in the coop, they still will not be ready to lay eggs for another 2 months or so. Be prepared for about 4-6 months before they will be providing regular eggs for your family. The seasons also effect laying cycles, so you may notice sunny summer weeks you get more eggs than late winter.
The biggest reason to raise your own chickens – they lay eggs that are free range, non GMO unpasteurized, completely natural and organic. Harvested from your own yard, that you know every step of the process. You know what you fed them, you know, what kind of grass and plants they ate. Knowing how healthy they are and how they grew up. You know that these are good, healthy, well fed, loved and cared for chickens, providing you with healthy eggs. Being able to know these eggs aren’t treated with a chemical wash, don’t have any type of pesticides or GMOs in the feed that’s being given to the chickens, etc. It’s about as organic as you can get.
There are a gazillion ways you can use eggs every day. Eggs are a natural powerhouse of balanced nutrients and vitamins. Inside of your basic chicken egg you will find: Protein, Amino Acids, Healthy Fats, and Antioxidants. Lesser known is that eggs provide fat-fighting and brain protecting choline, immune boosting selenium, and energy enhancing riboflavin.
This article from EatThis.com lists out 17 benefits from eating eggs. The more organic and un-processed your eggs, the better.
Double Duty – Fertilizer and Lawn Care
You may be raising urban chickens yourself just because their eggs are healthier. But even if you aren’t doing other “farming”, chickens provide pest control and fertilization for your back yard. They like to eat all the little grubs and insects and whatever they can get their beaks on. They’ll eat up all your leftover veggie and fruit scraps and they absolutely love them. They also love to roam and explore outside of the coop. A sunny grass filled area that is securely enclosed in chicken wire near the coop is a good idea. When we are able, we open that cage and let them free roam within our fenced back yard as well.
When you allow your chickens to run around your yard they’re fertilizing your grass as well as cleaning up the pests in your area. We noticed less mosquitoes, less ticks, and healthier looking grass when our chickens were free ranging in our backyard. Their little beaks “till” the soil, making it a healthier environment for grass and other plants to grow.
Symbiotic Planting – For You and Your Chickens
There are a few great plants that you can plant in and around the coop that are very beneficial to both the chickens and pest control, and make the yard smell absolutely lovely. It keeps the area that your chickens are living in from smelling like a dirty chicken coop, along with regular cleaning of course. Because a coop is essentially just like any other litter box, or pond – it’s gonna get a little scuzzy and dirty in between. So, planting things like lavender, thyme, mint, dandelions, rosemary, and more do double duty as a fragrant solution. The chickens will enjoy the special treat – some the eat, others they just like to enjoy the sweet shade the plants provide. For yourself, all these herbs that you want to have handy and organic – you’re growing right alongside your coop and throughout the yard.
Grab a few sprigs of mint to put in your water glass, or pull off some rosemary to hang in the bathroom. Gather some lavender and make a scented pouch for your dresser drawers. Like finding ways to cook eggs, you will find ways to use the bonus plants in creative and renewing ways.
And Chickens Are Freaking Cute!
They have their own little personalities and quirks. We name ours, even when we know we may lose some to predators and such. They are an extension of our little village. We like to show them love and appreciation for the food and entertainment they provide. I challenge you to go pet a chicken if you are having a bad day. You will smile, either because you got to pet one or had a blast trying to catch one!
Maybe becoming a chicken tender is a dream you never knew you had?
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the writer and do not necessarily represent those of The We Spot, it’s employees, sponsors, or affiliates.